Collective Bargaining

Taking the Firefighters’ Heat

Great negotiators are not “naturals” who simply possess some hidden talent unknown to others. Effective negotiation requires shill building that can only be perfected through knowledge and repetitive practice on a regular basis in each negotiating situation. Positional bargaining is a strategy that is based on moving from position to position, without one’s true agenda, until compromise is reached. Unlike problem-solving negotiation, which has been called “getting to yes, ” positional bargaining is more like “getting to OK.”

The City of Concord, New Hampshire, has a population of 50, 000 inhabitant, and its city hall is currently preparing for negotiations with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), Local ft37, which represents the 120 full-time firefighters and paramedics who are deployed among seven station houses. Both parties are approaching the upcoming negotiations with some trepidation because labor-management relations under the present collective bargaining agreement have been anything but harmonious.

THE CITY’S POSITION

The city’s negotiating team consists of three members; the personnel director, budget director, and the chief of the fire department. Both of the former individuals are classified employees whereas the chief is a political appointee and long-time friend of the mayor.

Currently, Concord Fire Department (CFD) employees in the bargaining unit earn an average of $30, 000 per year in wages, plus a generous benefit package calculated as worth another $20, 000 per employee. Thus, the compensation package fir CFD employees totals some $6 million for represented employees, approximately $700, 000 for six managers (the chief and five assistant chiefs), and almost $250, 000 for two secretaries and five dispatchers.

Traditionally, overtime costs have run approximately $7. 2 million annually. Management has been advised by an outside consultant to consider flexing work schedules so that it can avoid paying excessive overtime, but this proposal would certainly be strongly opposed by the union. Negotiations also are expected to center on issues of pay, health insurance, and annual leave time, with management needing to hold costs as much as possible.

Management’s position is exacerbated by the fact that neighboring Manchester, a city of approximately 100, 000 citizens, pays its firefighters and paramedics an average of $2, 000 per year more than Concord, provides comparable benefits, and allows a week more annual leave (three to five weeks, depending on seniority, in contrast to the two to four weeks given by CFD). Increased annual leave would mean hiring more employees, and the mayor is adamantly

 

 

opposed to new hires. The negotiating team believes that the union will want a package similar to the Manchester Fire Department, but the mayor has ordered the management team to hold the line on labor costs.

Budget projections for next year are pessimistic, and layoffs will need to be implemented if labor costs go up. The city’s negotiating team has been instructed that it may spend no more than $7. 5 million per year for the next two years and may only negotiate a two-year contract. The rising cost of health care means that positions must be eliminated, or compensation decreased, if the city is to remain within budget projections. The management team has been authorized to threaten the union, if necessary, with layoffs and even with closure of one of the fire stations. As far as health care is concerned, the mayor is not opposed to increasing copayments (currently, workers pay nothing except for $5 per prescription and $5 per office visit), employee contribution to health care premiums (currently, workers pay nothing and all family members are included), or a preferred provider program (currently employees have a choice of physicians and hospitals).

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement provides a 3 percent per year in wages, two weeks annual leave for employees with one to five years in service, three weeks for employees with six to ten years, and four weeks for employees with more than ten years in service.. The union has indicated that it will seek a 6 percent wage increase for the first year of the upcoming contract, and 4 percent for each year thereafter included in the agreement. The union would like a long-term contract of three or four years, and it would also like to hold steady on health care benefits as well as more annual leave.

THE UNION’S POSITION

The union’s negotiating team consists of three negotiators; a professional negotiator from the IAFF international headquarters, the local’s president, and the secretary-treasurer of Local #123. There is some smoldering resentment among rank-and-file members who feel that they put their lives on the line for an average of $30, 000 in wages, while the five assistant chiefs have hefty salaries averaging $80, 000, and the chief makes in excess of $100, 000 annually. Most of the assistant chiefs and the chief were formerly active in the union before crossing over to the management side.

As indicated, current negotiations are centered on pay, health insurance, and annual leave, but the most irritating fact is that Concord firefighters and paramedics are treated so much worse that Manchester employees with similar jobs. Concord employees believe that they are just as good as their Manchester counterparts and deserve comparable pay and benefits. A 6 percent raise during the first year of the next contract would close the gap between CFD and MFD, and 4 percent for each year thereafter would enable workers to hold steady in comparison with Manchester. The unit membership has insisted that the negotiating team hold steady on health care benefits, and they would like annual leave comparable to MFD.

 

 

The union’s negotiating team has heard the city’s usual lament regarding fiscal stress and the need for restraint; it has also been subjected to the usual threat of layoffs. However, the union feels that all of these excuses mask an indifference to the dedication and professionalism of CFD’s employees. Even though Manchester is a larger city than Concord, it has a lower median income level. The union team is convinced that its first task will be to convince the city to take the issue of parity with Manchester seriously by negotiating in good faith. Concord firefighters have authorized a strike in an unofficial vote, even though it is illegal under state law, if parity with Manchester is not achieved through collective bargaining.

Submission Instructions:

  • Answer the following questions:

1) In this negotiation, it seems like it will be impossible for the two sides to be able to meet an agreement – as to do so will likely lead to one side loosing. This situation is not uncommon in Union-Management Negotiations. What should the negotiators do in order to to prepare for the negotiation and make sure that it is successful (defined as

2) Provide at least 2 alternative plans (from what the two parties in the case want). You are to provide recommendations that create a compromise or collaboration where everyone being represented will be satisfied.

3) Both parties’ negotiators were given specific instructions and goals that they were to achieve; however, it is not realistic to expect either party to be able to achieve these orders. What consequences would you as the mayor for the city representative and as a union member to the union representatives have for your negotiators if they fail to follow orders. Hint: Think about concepts from your other classes.

4) Why is it illegal for the fire fighters to strike? What could they do instead to protest during the negotiations?

5) If an impasse is reached, what rights does the company have? How might the union try to thwart the impasse in this situation?

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